NBA Champion Bill Russell Passes Away at 88


Bill Russell, an NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, passed away on Sunday, July 31, at the age of 88. His family made an official statement confirming his death, but the cause of his death is yet to be known. But even so, there have been reports that he had not been well for quite some time. In fact, he was not present at June presentation ceremony of the NBA finals.

Russell’s Boston Celtics’ Legacy

Russell was a Boston Celtics legend and with his skills, the team won 11 championships over the course of 13 years. That’s over a decade of championships. In addition to playing for the Celtics, he also served as a coach for the Boston team, making him the first ever African American to coach a US sports team. Under his guidance, the team went on to win two titles. He is a five-time winner of the most valuable player award, has two college titles in his name, and is a NBA hall of famer. He’s also an Olympic gold medalist and 12-time winner of the all-star award.

The Boston Celtics even retired his Jersey number 6 in 1972 as a way to celebrate his amazing career. In 1970, he got a spot on NBA’s all-time team for the 25th anniversary, and made his way onto the team again in 1980. In 1996, he was named among the 50 best NBA players.

Contributions to the Civil Rights Movement

Besides his achievements in the world of basketball, Bill Russell was popular personality in the Civil Rights Movement. For his contributions, he was the recipient of a presidential medal of freedom, presented to him by Barack Obama, who was the president at the time. Russell was a vocal proponent of establishing the black community’s rights. 

He was present at the revolutionary march on Washington in 1963, otherwise known as the day when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Moreover, he supported Muhammad Ali when he faced backlash for refusing to the military draft.

William Felton Russell: A History

Bill Russell was born in 1934 on February 12th, in Monroe, Louisiana. When he was a child, his family moved to the West Coast. There, he went to high school in Oakland, California. Later on, he went to the University of San Francisco. Russell had an impressive basketball career until the NBA finals of 1969, and after that, he was the coach and general manager for the Seattle SuperSonics for four years. 

But despite winning 11 titles with the Boston Celtics between the years of 1956 and 1969, which were among the most dominant eras of basketball, he endured much racism. He faced vandalism and countless insults, but kept his head up and continued playing so he could take the team to glory. More importantly, he wanted to leverage his position to aim for equality. 

He mentioned that as a youth growing up in the South, where segregation was still a major part of the culture, his parents taught him to be calm and confident, which helped him ignore racist insults. Later on, he said that because of the way he was raised, he held a strong belief that his parents loved him, so brushing off racist comments was easier.

Former President Barack Obama Pays Tribute

When former president Barack Obama learned of Russell’s passing, he tweeted about his legacy and how the champion inspired him. Moreover, he recognized his ability to lead and win. Titling him ‘the greatest champion in basketball history’ and a ‘civil rights trailblazer,’ he said that he learn a lot from how he lived, coached, and played. 

At the Medal of Freedom ceremony in 2011, Barack Obama spoke about how Bill Russell was an inspiration who stood for people’s rights. Giving an example of the time when Russell refused to play at a scheduled game when a restaurant refused to serve the team’s black players, Obama showed that the NBA hall of famer was a man of principle.

Boston Celtics Makes a Statement

On Sunday, the Boston Celtics paid tribute to Bill Russell in a statement, calling him the greatest champion in basketball history. The team recounted his achievements and many other athletes paid tribute as well, such as Magic Johnson and Charlotte Hornets, both of whom are Hall of Famers.